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My Space: Where Do You Work?

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With remote mass working becoming the norm, efficient and engaging working spaces at home are now critical. Learn how you can create your own perfect working space.

For some of us, working from home has been the norm for decades. Many small business owners and freelancers began running their enterprises from spare rooms, the kitchen table, and other more exotic locations.

The pandemic has forced millions of workers who had been commuting to their offices to suddenly create a working space at home. What had initially seemed to be a temporary occurrence now looks set to become permanent, as businesses radically alter how their workforces are organized.

We have all become voyeurs thanks to Zoom, inviting us into the homes of colleagues, clients, and commercial partners, as we look behind them to see where they are calling from. Where we all work holds a fascination for us all.

One of the significant issues when trying to work from home regularly is the inevitable distractions. According to research from instantprint one in ten UK employees (13%) are more productive when working from home. However, a further one in ten (11%) have found there to be too many distractions. Children (28%) were found to be the biggest distraction for UK adults working from home. Partners (24%), pets (20%), and chores around the home (20%) were also high on the list.

Jon Constantine-Smith, Head of instantprint, commented on the findings: “Working from home long-term, especially when it’s something we don’t have a choice in, can take some getting used to, and even more so if you’re limited on space and may not have the fastest internet speeds. Whilst there are naturally more distractions for us around the home due to that space being representative of our personal lives, it’s important to try and not be so hard on yourself and remember that there were also distractions in your normal working environment, whether that be an office, a studio, or otherwise.”

Switching to more homeworking is not as simple as it seems. The new research, commissioned by Zen Internet, found that the drive towards homeworking has been accelerated by the pandemic – with almost half (49%) saying their plans to expand remote working came as a result of COVID-19.

Half (50%) of businesses are already using a cloud-based solution for integrating their communications channels, such as voice and video. This is the case for six in 10 (60%) large businesses, but only two fifths (40%) of SMEs. When it comes to future intentions, 45% of companies do not currently use a cloud-based solution but would consider it. Almost two fifths (38%) of large businesses identify with this, compared to over half (53%) of SMEs.

And RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) discovered in their survey, nearly 70% of respondents believed a better-designed home would increase their happiness. And 15% want to improve their homes to become more productive working spaces.

“Over recent months our homes have had to become the workplace, school, and gym, and yet still be a place to relax and recover from all the everyday stresses and strains – impacting entire households,” commented Environmental Psychologist and Lecturer at the University of Surrey, Eleanor Ratcliffe. “The RIBA’s research demonstrates that many people realise that their home in its current form does not cater for all these different uses and users.”

As the spaces we work in will change over the long term, understanding the importance of design and the choices we make when creating a working space at home is vital to understand. Clearly, no two working spaces will be the same, as none of us live in homogenous homes. But this is where creativity can play a massive role. As RIBA’s research indicates, our health and wellbeing are intertwined with where we work. There are a few spaces that are more personal than our homes.

My space

To gain an insight into where other small business owners and freelancers work, I asked for submissions from these communities. The variety of working spaces is massive and supports the view that your working space is vital to productivity and your wellbeing.

Ben Derbyshire, Chair, HTA Design LLP, says: “At HTA we are advocates for so-called off-site manufacture and constructing a building. However small, in your back garden calls for the minimum mess and disruption. There are a great many reputable manufacturers who mostly use structural insulated panels – a plywood sandwich with insulation filling that can be carried through your house quickly. We could re-use the existing ground slab of our demolished shed, but the lightweight structures can even be mounted on prefabricated footings.

“Don’t feel the need to connect the studio to your house. I really enjoy the ‘commute’ through the rather wild vegetation in our own garden and it seldom rains enough to get even slightly wet. Do consider a remote light switching system, though – it saves fumbling with keys. My only regret is the compostable loo, sold to me on the strength of this being a commonplace feature of life in Scandinavia. We once worked on a project with the late Ralph Erskine who told me he used the Swedish forest for relief when he built his own cabin there after the war, so I rather fell for the sales pitch. I prefer to nip back to the house than wrestle with the absorbent shredded coconut shell. You did ask!”

Job van der Voort, CEO, and co-founder of Remote, comments: “My own office has a few quirks – I have a second desk for playing games, fiddling with technology, and building LEGO sets. Beyond that, I have an exercise bike in the office, a record player, and my guitars. There’s also a big screen, which I use for company metrics. What works will be different for everyone, so if you’re starting from scratch, focus on the essentials and build it out as you go.”

Caroline Kenyon, a serial entrepreneur and an anti-food poverty campaigner, manages a team of ten employees from what she describes as a potting shed: “I would say that productivity trebled when I converted the garden potting shed into an office. It was so hard to mentally separate home from work when I was using a spare room, even though it was right at the top of the house. I now walk through my son’s old playroom, which still makes me smile, through a connecting door and into the office space. I genuinely feel I am going to work and my mindset changes immediately. I become totally focused.”

Paul Hindmarsh, Managing Director at Quadrant Design, creators of HUMAN explained his approach to working space design: “You have the opportunity to create your ideal working space. Take those elements that work well for you and tweak those that don’t. From your workstation and chair to the lighting and temperature – this is your space. Natural light is essential. Even if your office is a snug, basement or garage, you can artificially create daylight.

“If your space is to be shared with other family members, it must be flexible and easy to adapt. Like a pre-set car setting, you need to be able to easily change the set up for when you return to the space. Create a modern, professional backdrop for video conference calls. All the years spent honing your professional appearance can be lost in a second if you’re sat with stacks of boxes or a peeling wall behind you.

“Accessorize! The most exciting bit of designing your perfect workstation, is surrounding yourself with accessories that you love; the perfect pad, the pen that’s been with you through thick and thin, a beautiful paperweight, even in a paperless office it’s great to be surrounded by some analogue accessories.”

And for some working at home office envy, perhaps the space small business owner Ryan Jackson’s rather spectacular garden office overlooking a Balinese beach is something we can all aspire to.

Ryan moved from Loughton to Bali in October 2020 after the pandemic made him realize that he can operate his business success by working from home full time. So, he decided he could live anywhere in the world and moved to Bali. He firmly believes in the impact of your work environment on your health and wellbeing.

“My key advice for anyone creating a working space for the first time would be to find an area close to an open window where you have lost of natural light and fresh air. Ensure that the surrounding area is clutter-free as a messy working space will have a negative impact on your mindset.

“What’s great about working from your home is that you have the freedom to personalize your working areas precisely as you choose, making it much more comfortable. Design it according to what makes you feel good – this might be motivational quotes, plants, family photos, crystals, or whatever uplifts you and your energy.

“Also, never underestimate the importance of having the right chair. Not having the proper support when sitting for long periods can have an incredibly negative impact on your health. It’s a worthwhile investment.

“One of the undervalued benefits of working in an office environment is that you build a morning routine that you tend to follow like clockwork. But with the option of not having to go to the office, the weeds can creep in. Waking up late, not bothering to dress as you normally would for a day’s work, these small things influence your mindset and motivation. To work from home successfully, develop a routine that will ensure your day remains productive and helps you maintain a strong mental clarity.”

For more than just freelancers and small business owners, working from home will become the norm. Creating a space to work within is critical. Take some time to think about what’s important to you when work is considered. As you control your space at home, this is your opportunity to create the perfect space for you.

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